Monday, 21 May 2018

What is the responsibility of a Christian when a close family member has been disciplined (withdrawn from) by the church?

     Sometimes a dilemma is faced when it seems that one command of God must be “disobeyed” in order to obey another command of God (e.g. Matt. 12:5; John 7:22-23). The Lord instituted both family obligations and church-discipline obligations, so what happens when the fulfillment of one seems to conflict with the fulfillment of the other? For example, what does a Christian wife do when the church withdraws from her husband? What do Christian parents do when this happens to one of their children? What do the children do when this happens to one or both parents? On one hand there are God-given responsibilities for spouses (1 Cor. 7:3-5, 10-13; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Pet. 3:1-7), parents (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21; 1 Tim. 5:8; Tit. 2:4), and children (Rom. 1:30; Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20; Luke 2:42, 51). Even when children become adults, they still have certain obligations toward their parents (cf. Eph. 6:2; Matt. 15:4-6; Mark 7:9-13; Luke 18:18-21; 1 Tim. 5:4, 8, 16) and vice versa (cf. Gen. 7:1, 7; 24:1-4; 27:1-4; 46:1-7; 49:1 ff.; 1 Sam. 2:22-25; Matt. 22:2; Luke 15:20-32). On the other hand, God has instructed Christians not to associate with brethren who walk disorderly (1 Cor. 5:2-11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14). This poses a real problem when some degree of association is necessary to fulfill a family duty. Unfortunately the Bible does not specifically address this predicament and there is no easy solution.
     The Lord must be a Christian’s first priority, even before the closest of human relationships (Matt. 10:37; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 14:26-33). When this is the case, at least two things will happen: (1) The Christian will not allow family members to hinder his obedience to the Lord, and (2) he will not neglect his God-given family obligations (which is part of his obedience to the Lord, cf. Col. 3:18-24). When an apparent conflict arises between the two, the Christian must first determine exactly what responsibilities he has toward the disciplined family member and then do his imperfect best to fulfill both without compromising either. In other words, he must try to carry out whatever family duties he might have in such a way that the disciplinary action is not compromised or rendered ineffective.
     The greatest responsibility one has toward a spouse, parent, or child is of a spiritual nature (cf. Deut. 6:5-9; 1 Pet. 3:1). There ought to be no question as to which of the following is most important: (a) temporal associations, or (b) eternal fellowship. The primary purpose of disciplinary action is to make the erring Christian aware of his sinful behavior, emphasize the seriousness of his spiritual condition, and engender shame and godly sorrow to prompt repentance and restoration (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 1 Tim. 1:20). It is an attempt to pull him “out of the fire” and to save his soul (Jude 23). 
     While it may not be necessary to discontinue all interaction, since some form of admonishing is to continue (2 Thess. 3:15; cf. Gal. 6:1), a decision must be made as to what is in the best spiritual interest of the one disciplined. If the errant loved one is treated the same as before (as though nothing is wrong) and continues to enjoy an approving relationship, he is not being shown loving concern for his spiritual condition and destiny, nor is he given the incentive to change.
     Emotionally this is without question an extremely difficult situation to be in, and much patience and understanding should be shown toward anyone who may be struggling with this dilemma. If a Christian is involved in family interaction with one disciplined by the church, whatever else might be said or done, the impression should not be left that the current condition of the erring member is forgotten, considered unimportant, or condoned.
--Kevin L. Moore

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